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The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) said the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the annual funding gap for education in the poorest countries to $200 billion a year.

The Global Education Monitoring (GEM) report called for the immediate introduction of emergency remedial programmes, which could reduce the potential cost of COVID-19 on education by 75 per cent.

This could also reduce the social cost of failing to meet the Sustainable Development Goal on Education (SDG 4), which calls for the provision of inclusive quality education for all by 2030.

It is therefore imperative for leaders to prioritise investment in education for low and middle-income countries and avoid the higher cost of catching up on lost education later.

Before the pandemic, UNESCO estimated the annual spending requirement to meet SDG 4 at $504b, of which $148b were unavailable.

Under plausible school closures and present Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth scenarios, COVID-19 would increase the funding gap by up to a third.

The GEM report stated that COVID-19 is pushing countries’ educational costs up due to the need to re-enrol students and to offer remedial programmes to support marginalised learners in returning to school.
It added that additional costs are needed to ensure children are safe in the classroom, with access to hygiene facilities and more space to enable physical distancing.

UNESCO has warned that total aid to education is likely to decline by 12 per cent by 2022 due to the economic consequences of COVID-19. This poses a threat to the recovery of education from the disruption of the pandemic.

With less than a decade to go before the SDG deadline, the world is facing a funding crisis that may threaten educational progress.

On actions to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on children’s education, Director of GEM report, Manos Antoninis said governments in low- and middle-income countries must resist pressure to cut their budget for education due to economic downturn.
Besides, he said governments at different levels should direct a significant part of their education budget to the most marginalised groups, regions and schools while international donors must protect their aid to global education and use equitable funding to support countries with chronic inequalities.

“At present, only 47 per cent of aid to basic and secondary education goes to low- and middle-income countries where it is most needed; this health crisis has exacerbated the effect of intersecting inequalities on education opportunities. Countries will need additional funding for COVID-19 responses that were previously not programmed. Donors must ensure flexibility so that existing programmes can be restructured and realigned to help countries ensure that COVID-19 is only a temporary setback.

“Ministries of education and social protection need to work together and target their policies towards the most disadvantaged. Social protection such as conditional cash transfers and child grants with an education component and gender dimension are particularly important. Such policies could ensure that fewer children drop out of school,” he added.

To recover from the pandemic, the UNESCO boss advocated increased funding for education in the form of remedial programmes.

Antoninis said, “The international community urgently needs to mobilise additional funding for education if there is any hope of achieving the SDG 4 targets made all the more difficult by the pandemic.

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